2015 was a banner year for music industry-related sexism and misogyny. Here's a breakdown of some of the most egregious examples.
Ariana Grande shuts down sexist radio DJs / Screenshot via YouTube
In January of 2015, the artist Bjork, discussed the release of her new album, Vulnicura, in an interview with Pitchfork, offering particularly poignant comments about the devaluation of women's labor: “It’s invisible, what women do,” she said. “It’s not rewarded as much.” This interview set off a flurry of discussion about erasure and sexist assumptions in the music industry at large, a discussion that continued, in various forms, throughout the year.
Bjork likely had no idea that 2015 was going to turn into a banner year for talking about music industry-related sexism and misogyny. In 2015, no scene, community or genre was safe from an absurd round of events that cast a long shadow on discussions of everything from music festivals, concerts, interviews and social media. The last 12 months revealed there's really no sugarcoating how rampant and ingrained the scourge of these issues is. As the year progressed, dealing with each new instance of degradation and depersonalization became like a game of sexism Whack-A-Mole, as for every step forward—an apology, a dude getting thrown out of a show—there were countless other instances of bad behavior with no consequences.
Even when there were was a negative outcry, it didn't necessarily lead to tangible results. So many bursts of sexism in 2015 caused a brief supernova of internet outrage and then faded away, overshadowed by the next example of casual marginalization, asshole commentary, and "Just kidding!" backtracking. "Reactions to sexism and misogyny" was almost its own category of essay in 2015, a phenomenon Chanelle Adams explored in her excellent Media essay, "Snapping Back, Slowing Down: The Feminist Think Piece Industrial Complex," in which she questioned the impact of "the innumerable think pieces cranked out on the daily, posing responses to almost everything, participating in something akin to a think piece industrial complex. The product: live, real-time, package-able, consumable content that asserts its importance as the foremost, priority issue to pay attention to—for now, that is."
The reality is, as Noisey writer Emma Garland argued in a piece called "If We're Going To End Music Industry Sexism, The Dialogue Around It Has To Change," that real progress has to go beyond simply calling out sexism and offering an alternate path forward that is deliberately more inclusive of women. At the same time, constantly examining everything that's wrong made it even more obvious that speaking out is even more important now than ever. And plenty of artists, from the indie underground to some of the world's biggest pop stars, were ready this year to start the conversation by calling out misogyny where they encountered it. This list is a chronological look at the year's misogyny and sexism, but it is by no means comprehensive. Instead, it aims to highlight some of the most high-profile, egregious examples as 2015 comes to a curtain close.
January 21: Bjork Refuses to Be Ignored
In a Pitchfork interview, Björk detailed the consistent, enduring ways her own personal musical contributions to her own personal albums have been ignored, dismissed, downplayed, and/or demeaned. "I’ve sometimes thought about releasing a map of all my albums and just making it clear who did what," she said. "But it always comes across as so defensive that, like, it’s pathetic."
Her comments made people aware of how often female musicians face these misconceptions: Slate then chronicled other published examples of women's musical contributions being diminished or mischaracterized, and even admitted they've screwed up in the past.
February 24: The Problem with Festival Line-Ups
Photo courtesey of Crack In The Road
The website Crack In The Road exposed the gender inequality in music festival lineups by removing all the male artists and bands from the 2015 Reading and Leeds festival lineup posters, and leaving only the female musicians. The results had enough white space to give a graphic designer fits.
Whether this striking gesture had an impact remains to be seen, although it's not looking good: Of the initial 11 bands announced for the 2016 fest, only one, Hinds, has female musicians.
March 10: Madonna and the Co-Producing Shadow
Photo by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot and courtesey of Madonna
By this point in Madonna's career, there should be no question that she is the driving force behind her music. Unbelievably, that's not always the case, as she told Out. After interviewer Christopher Glazek mentioned quotes from the Pitchfork Björk interview, she responded, "People are always saying, 'So he’s the producer,' or 'Who produced it?' and I have to say, 'I did. I co-produced that with Diplo. I co-produced that with Kanye.' Whatever — everything is a co-production. I’m the one who stays in the studio throughout, from beginning to end — all of these people come and go."
Later in the chat, Madonna underscored that so many of the double standards women face—particularly where it comes to sexuality or success—are as bad as ever. "Women are still the most marginalized group. They’re still the group that people won’t let change.” A successful woman, she told Out, “must fit into this box: You must behave this way, dress this way" and added, "You’re still categorized — you’re still either a virgin or a whore. If you’re a certain age, you’re not allowed to express your sexuality, be single, or date younger men."
April 22: Lauren Mayberry Fights Back Against Trolls
Photo by Danny Clinch
Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry has spent the last few years waging a war on internet trolls and shutting down sexist comments from the crowd. This fight flared up with a vengeance in 2015: In April, she Instagrammed a vicious threat she received—"I want to push a cheesegrater into your pussy and quickly pull it out so that I can enjoy raping you"—while in August, the band's video for "Leave A Trace" caused her to be on the receiving end of more hateful vitriol and abuse.
In response, Mayberry did what she always did: dig in her heels and speak out against this harassment, even louder than ever. "Somebody tweeted me the other day, ‘If you can’t learn to deal with this sort of s***, stick a gun in your mouth before the record even comes out,'" The Guardian reported. "'I have one and I’ll give it to you.’ Personally, that’s horrifying, if somebody put that through your door, you would go to the police with that.” In the April Instagram incident, she was more pointed with the photo's caption: "These people never learn that violence against women is unacceptable. But they also never learn that women will not be shamed and silenced and made to disappear. I am not going anywhere. So bring it on, motherfuckers. Let’s see who blinks first."
May 7: Katie Crutchfield Warns Sexist Crowd-Goer Not to Objectify Female Performers
Still frame of Katie Crutchfield from Waxahatchee's Video for "La Loose"
During a Waxahatchee gig at Chicago's Empty Bottle, Katie Crutchfield first confronted and then kicked out a male fan who shouted derogatory comments toward her from the crowd. She followed that up with a pointed tweet: "Let me just say: do not yell creepy, objectifying shit at me (anyone) on stage (ever) because I will embarrass you."
May 26: Women in Country Music Launch Tomato-Gate
Women are just getting in the way of country radio rating success, consultant Keith Hill told Country Aircheck Weekly. The reason? Well, female listeners prefer listening to guys, duh. "Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad," Hill said. "The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”
In response, the female country artist community collectively rolled their eyes, and then enacted revenge by adopting tomato-based internet slang (#tomatotuesday!), producing tomato-themed merch for charity and even reclaiming the phrase in press releases. Read Noisey's revealing essay on why country music is so afraid of women here.
June 1: Laura Snapes vs. Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon
After being assigned a profile on Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek, U.K. journalist Laura Snapes did her due diligence by asking his friends and peers to provide (positive) supporting quotes about his music. Apparently, such a professional gesture rankled him: During a show at London venue the Barbican, Kozelek improvised a song with the lyrics, “Laura Snapes totally wants to fuck me / get in line, bitch … Laura Snapes totally wants to have my babies.” He later backpedaled and said he was just joshing around, and then called adult woman Snapes “cute,” “sweet” and “a good kid."
Snapes had the last word, however, penning her (excellent) piece anyway for the Guardian, which led with his nasty behavior and ended with a paragraph calling him out for it, noting Kozelek "hides behind one-way email exchanges, balks at the idea of his peers speaking about him and issues tirades (and sometimes, sexual advances) from the cowardly remove of the stage, with the get-out clause that it’s a performance."
June 9: SONY Backs Dr. Luke against Kesha's Abuse Allegations
Photo by Yu Tasari for RCA Records
The Hollywood Reporter reported that Kesha and her legal team added Sony Music as a defendant to her lawsuit regarding abuse at the hands of her producer, Dr. Luke. The complaint not only alleges that Sony executives "failed to investigate Dr. Luke's conduct, failed to take any corrective action, or actively concealed Dr. Luke's abuse" but that the label put female artists like Kesha "in physical danger by giving Dr. Luke full creative and business control, with nearly limitless financial resources, over young female artists who necessarily were compelled to become dependent upon his good will."
September 18 Update:
In court papers, Sony responded to Kesha's allegations of abuse cover-up by saying she "cannot have it both ways: She cannot claim that Gottwald intimidated her into silence, then — as an apparent afterthought — seek to hold Sony and [Dr. Luke's label] Kemosabe Records liable for failing to act on conduct that she did not report."
THR also quoted a Dr. Luke spokesperson, who's apparently in blame the victim mode: "If Kesha now regrets her career being mired in legal proceedings, it’s entirely her making." This time, however, the internet rallied around the musician, using the hashtag #FreedomforKesha to show support, raise awareness and call for her emancipation—a movement that's continued almost unabated since.
July 23: Eminem Disses Caitlyn Jenner in Transphobic Rap Verse
Eminem will be the first to own up to his indiscretions: During a freestyle on the radio show Sway In The Morning, he rapped, "I made monopoly off misogyny.” That didn't excuse the screed's transphobia (“I see the bitch in you, Caitlyn / I keep the pistol tucked like Bruce Jenner’s dick") and hints of domestic abuse (an insinuation of backhanding Miley Cyrus), as well as its overt misogyny and sexism.
Later, however, Em assured, "I just say shit to say it" and "it's very rarely personal" (as if that was okay), while both news posts about and Twitter reactions to the freestyle didn't seem to have any issues with his raps.
July 28: Grimes Opens Up About Sexist Backstage Conduct
In the August/September issue of The Fader, Grimes described a backstage scene where a random guy started making out with her. She also railed against the music industry's propensity for gendering musicians and undermining talent: "All of a sudden it’s like, ‘Grimes is a female musician’ and ‘Grimes has a girly voice.’ It’s like, yeah, but I’m a producer and I spend all day looking at fucking graphs and EQs and doing really technical work.” In Emma Garland's interview with Grimes for Noisey, the artist echoes many of the same sentiments.
August 18: Dee Barnes Goes Public About Dr. Dre's Abuse Against Women
Dr. Dre's ex-girlfriend, Dee Barnes, penned a powerful essay for Gawker titled "Here's What's Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up," which detailed how the rapper attacked her at a nightclub in 1991. Barnes' article also pointed out the demeaning (or nonexistent) portrayal of women in Straight Outta Compton, noting the particular omissions of JJ Fad, Tairrie B, Michel'le and Yo Yo.
Dre subsequently issued a public apology, leadingBarnes to respond with another lengthy, powerful essay, in which she said, "I hope he meant it. I hope he represents these words in his life. I hope that after all these years, he really is a changed man."
August 24: Jessica Hopper's Twitter Call-to-Arms Reveals Misogyny in the World of Music Journalism
When former Pitchfork editor and longtime music journalist Jessica Hopper tweeted, "Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn't 'count'?," the outpouring of sexism, racism, condescension, misogyny and homophobia which turned up in her feed was only jarring because of how pervasive, widespread and depressing the examples were.
Several days later, Hopper tweeted, "#WomeninMusic: what accomplishment in music industry/journo/scene are you most proud of?" and drew hundreds of empowering responses that highlighted the resiliency of these same people. Read Noisey's empowering interview with Jessica Hopper here.
September 22: Radio X Seeks to Become "The First Truly Male-Focused" Station
This is a public service announcement from Radio X.Posted by Radio X on Monday, September 21, 2015
When the U.K. alternative radio station XFM rebranded itself as Radio X in early September, it announced a push to be the "first truly male-focused" station for that underserved demographic of guys ages 25-44. After that claim went over like a lead balloon, the station dug in its heels and bravely published a video PSA which snarked on women, teenagers and the gay community.
October 14: Conde Naste Praises Pitchfork's "Passionate Audience of Millenial Males"
The Conde Naste statement regarding the aquisition of Pitchfork Media
The New York Times story about Condé Nast purchasing Pitchfork Media quoted the former's chief digital officer, Fred Santarpia, as noting the deal brings “a very passionate audience of millennial males into our roster.” While likely referring to a marketing demographic—the site's readership does skew predominantly male—the tone-deaf comment in one fell swoop insulted the site's many female staffers and freelancers, as well as the many, many female artists Pitchfork has championed.
Thankfully, in the months since, Pitchfork's coverage hasn't had any noticeable change—and the quip spawned plenty of smart, excellent essays eviscerating the comment, as well as one of the year's most eyeroll-worthy catchphrases.
November 3: Ariana Grande Shuts Down Sexist Bonehead DJs Who Ask About Make-Up
While appearing on the LA radio station Power 106, a visibly annoyed Ariana Grande barely put up with boneheaded DJs asking her questions like, "If you could use makeup or your phone one last time, what would you pick?" That same week, the pop star took to Twitter and voiced frustration with men objectifying women after spotting someone comparing her to Ariel Winter.
November 20: Apple Music Head Jimmy Iovine Worries That Women Have Difficulty Finding New Music
During an appearance on CBS This Morning, Apple Music head honcho Jimmy Iovine claimed that "women find it very difficult at times, some women, to find music." Why? "Not everybody has the right list, or knows a DJ or something," he explained—which is a detriment when girls need a soundtrack for when they're "sitting around, you know, talking about boys," he observed. "Or complaining about boys, when they have their heart broken or whatever." Sadly, Mary J. Blige—who was sitting next to Iovine during this insanity—didn't start belting out "No More Drama" to drown him out. Either way, he later apologized.
November 25: Adele Defies the Male Gaze in Candid Interview Regarding Motherhood and Stardom
Adele sold 3.38 million copies of 25 the first week it was in stores, but that didn't prevent The TODAY Show's Matt Lauer from concern-trolling her over whether she'll be able to balance motherhood and a music career: "Do you get concerned at all that now, with the explosion of this album, that you're going to have to get back on that career treadmill and have less time to dedicate to him?" This subtle sexism certainly didn't bother her: She answered the question with breezy grace, and then booked a U.S. tour which sold out nearly immediately.
November 30: Sky Ferreira Demands Respect in Galvanizing Instagram Post
Photo courtesey of Sky Ferreira's Instagram
Sky Ferreira went on an Instagram tear against asshole internet commenters who denigrate her looks—"It's pretty petty and shitty that I'm supposed to be okay with being called a bitch or a slut or torn apart on my appearance daily (all day & every day)"—and defended peers such as Miley Cyrus, Grimes and Lana Del Rey in the process. "Sexual/verbal harassment isn't funny, it's mostly unsettling & at a certain point intolerable...and abusive," Ferreira wrote. "Women like @mileycyrus @_alice_glass @actuallygrimes @charli_xcx @selenagomez @lanadelrey @azealiabanks & more shouldn't have to be "okay" with it & should be able to remind people to respect them without it being deemed as complaining."
Now: GAGA Sums It Up in Acceptance Speech for Billboard's Woman of the Year Award
Taken as a whole, 2015 felt like a Sisyphean struggle. And while it was exhausting dealing with so much bullshit, it was also galvanizing: Constantly examining everything that's wrong made it even more obvious that speaking out is even more important now than ever—that silence is not an option. As Lady Gaga said in December, while accepting her Billboard Woman Of The Year award:
"What I really want to say is that it is really hard sometimes for women in music. It’s like a fucking boys’ club that we just can’t get into. … I tried for so long, I just really wanted to be taken seriously as a musician for my intelligence more than my body ever in this business. You don’t always feel like when you’re working that people believe that you have a musical background, that you understand what you’re doing because you’re a female."
Annie Zaleski has high hopes for 2016. Follow her on Twitter.